UK shale gas resources 'greater than thought'


Osborne: "Local communities should get, for example, at least £100,000 for every fracking well that is created"

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UK shale gas resources may be far greater than previously thought, a report for the government says.

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England - double previous estimates.

Meanwhile the government has announced measures to enable shale gas drilling as part of its infrastructure plans.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon described shale gas as "an exciting new energy resource".

The BGS said its estimate for shale gas resources in the Bowland Basin region, which stretches from Cheshire to Yorkshire, represented potential resources, but "not the gas that might be possible to extract".

"Shale gas clearly has potential in Britain but it will require geological and engineering expertise, investment and protection of the environment," it said.

Drilling companies have previously estimated that they may be able to extract around 10% of this gas - equivalent to around 130 trillion cubic feet.

Shale gas map
'Early days'

If the estimates are proved correct, that would still suggest recoverable reserves of shale gas far in excess of the three trillion cubic feet of gas currently consumed in the UK each year.

Shale gas is extracted through "fracking" - the controversial process of freeing trapped gas by pumping in a mixture of water, sand and chemicals.


The truly massive shale gas resource of the north of England may bring tax revenues and possibly - not definitely - lead to lower bills, but it won't help the environment.

This week the government's climate change advisers warned that the UK was failing to keep pace with legally binding cuts in the CO2 emissions that are disrupting the climate.

The Environment Agency warns that if we want to keep burning gas we will have to rely on unproven technology to capture the carbon emissions in order to meet climate change targets.

It also warns that gas escaping from fractured wells may increase climatic disruption.

Meanwhile the International Energy Agency warns that the world can only burn a third of its existing fossil fuel reserves without a serious risk of de-stabilising the climate.

Shale gas plans will meet local environmental opposition too.

The process has helped boost the domestic energy industry in the US in recent years, where oil production has risen and gas prices have plummeted.

In a statement, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "Though it is early days for shale in the UK, it has the potential to contribute to the UK's energy security, increase inward investment and growth."

The government has unveiled a package of reforms to encourage development in the industry.

They include new planning guidelines to make the process of approving new drilling sites more streamlined, and a consultation on tax incentives to encourage exploration.

Communities affected by shale gas drilling are also expected to receive £100,000 in "community benefits" and 1% of production revenues, should sites start producing gas.

"Shale gas represents an exciting new potential energy resource for the UK, and could play an important part in our energy mix," said Energy Minister Michael Fallon

"Development must be done in partnership with local people. We welcome the commitments from industry on community benefits.

"This will provide a welcome boost for communities who will host shale exploration and production as well as offering strong assurances that operators will engage with them and work to the highest health, safety and environmental standards."

fracking graphic

He said communities hosting shale gas drilling could benefit from cheaper bills, regeneration schemes and new community facilities like playgrounds and sports halls.

The incentives are designed to overcome significant scepticism surrounding the process of fracking, which has generated environmental concerns.

Critics argue that it can cause earth tremors and pollute water supplies, and that shale gas wells could blight the countryside and affect house prices.

They also want investment in green energy sources, rather than fossil fuels.

Labour's shadow energy minister, Tom Greatrex, conceded that gas would remain "an important part of our energy mix in the future".

But he dismissed the announcement of incentives as "a desperate attempt to draw attention away from the government's cuts to infrastructure investment... and its abject failure to get the economy growing".

Power warning

Currently the UK's shale industry remains in its infancy, with relatively small energy companies such as IGas and Cuadrilla until recently the only firms with licences to explore share gas resources.

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, announced its intention to buy a stake in one licence in the Bowland Basin owned by Cuadrilla earlier this month.

The report for the government comes as energy regulator Ofgem warned that the risks of power blackouts has increased because excess capacity in the power industry has fallen in the UK.

The watchdog has twice warned in recent months that the amount of spare power is shrinking, partly due to some gas generators being taken out of service.

Centrica has already withdrawn two of its gas plants from operation. In April, SSE confirmed that it too would mothball gas plants and put off investments in new ones.

Adam Scorer, of the lobby group Consumer Futures, said: "Projections of ever-tighter capacity margins understandably raise fears of higher electricity prices.

"Government and regulator need to agree on the most realistic capacity scenarios, the least-cost ways of reducing demand and, where necessary, of incentivising new generation capacity."

Announcing further details of the government's spending review to parliament, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander said the government had agreed "strike prices" in an effort to boost investment in renewable forms of energy.

The prices mean the government will guarantee to pay a certain price for energy generated through on-shore and off-shore wind, tidal, wave, bio-mass and solar power.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Lets frack around the M25 to the nearest coast and float the whole lot off into the Atlantic with a dirty great for sale sign on it including all:


    Then we can start again and create something worthy of what was bequeathed to us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Not a NIMBY but am in an affected area and know quite a lot about the process. It IS scary. If all goes well then great, the UK gets a lot of cheap energy (whilst Amercian firms get a lot of profit). If anything goes even slightluy wrong then thats it. Huge swathes of the UK contaminated and ruined FOREVER. There is no 'clean up' operation possible for this. Thats whats really scary !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I don't know how anyone can claim to have control of the consequences of pumping chemicals underground to fracture rock. The Horizon documentary echoed these concerns: People getting sick in areas of fracking, taps that catch fire when lit because the water bubbles with methane. Doctors unable to explain symptoms because of essentially being gagged as the fracking chemicals are trade secrets! Bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Any energy resource which has a track record of producing gas when you turn on the hot WATER tap, should be kicked into touch.

    But then again, money talks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It sounds as if ministers have already made up their minds and it's going to happen whether people like it or not,just as they gave permission for open cast coal mining,much to the distress of locals.When big business and money is involved,the little guys- us- just get pushed to one side by the bullies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Knowing Britain, we wont see any drop in our gas prices. All the profits will go to Foreign Owned companies and the tax reaped will be minimal/globalised/frittered away. I'm all for it myself, but being a good little democratic person, it should be up to the LOCAL COMMUNITIES to decide. It's funny though, that North Sea Oil is Scotish, but Shale Gas is British (even though it's mainly in England)

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Fracking is fine in the US where they have relatively benign planning but the UK has perhaps the most stringent planning in the world. Flipping a community 1% of revenues or £100k (interestingly half that of wind projects which pay 2% of revenues annually) to make planning easier is not going to happen. I suspect fracking will never contribute more than a fraction of our needs, despite the claims

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Energy companies should only be allowed to mothball existing infrastructure where they can set a maximum price increase tied to the RPI for the next 10 years. Otherwise, energy companies will reduce supply to increase demand, and then use that to justify large price increases for consumers. Whether its fracking or existing companies, its all about the quick buck.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I have extensive gas reserves in my back garden. I'm growing beans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If indeed the extraction proves safe and the amounts indicated genuine, let us make it an asset of the people for the people, not the corporate sector. Since all I've heard is that the find 'may' reduce energy bills and that is simply not good enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "The greenest government ever"? They'll be saying we're all in it together next. Lies, damned lies and profit. As McPherson said "If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while you count your money." Investment in clean, sustainable energy is what is required but we'll never get that within the current corporatocracy disguised as democracy regime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Look at the damage this method of extraction has caused in the USA, and these Tory clowns are offering MAYBE £100,000 for each well.
    That will make up for polluted water,Birth defects,cancers,subsidence and environmental pollution.
    Pumping toxic chemicals into the ground is acceptable only to Tories and their business chums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    1.3 trillion cubic metres of gas released without causing any geological activity on the surface? I'm no expert, but that sounds unlikely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Inspite of which prices will no doubt continue to rise and people will be no better off.Ask OFGEM!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Lower gas prices? Two chances. One of them is FAT chance...

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    fools, you won't get cheaper gas.
    It will be sold at market rates, why would the producers sell it to you cheaper than the Russians would charge for the same stuff?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Oh the NIMBY's won't like this, not at all.

    Personally I recognise the need for energy and welcome any reasonable measures to obtain it - fracking is one such measure.

    To all those who say NOT IN MY BACK YARD - fine, either come up with alternatives or we'll take you off the national grid and you can make your own energy. You'll soon change your tune when your back in a cave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Sweet, I've always wanted to set fire to my tap water :D


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